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BlackWater Fire Memorial - TravelStorys

Cody to Yellowstone

Location Trip Time Travel Type
Wyoming 1.5 hour

BlackWater Fire Memorial

The memorial ahead commemorates fifteen lives tragically lost in these woods during the Depression. On August 18, 1937, a lightning strike started a forest fire near here, at Blackwater Creek. It went undetected until a couple of days later. At that point, a combination of hot, dry conditions, increasing winds, and dead trees with limbs extending to the ground -- which provided fuel ladders to the tops of the trees -- turned a seemingly small, controllable fire into a fatal inferno. Within just six days, the Blackwater Fire consumed 1,700 acres of Douglas fir on the slopes of Clayton Mountain. In those days, firefighters used mostly hand tools, and radio communication was poor or non-existent. Many of the men responding to the Blackwater Fire were members of the Civilian Conservation Corps, a public work relief program during the Depression. They had little experience fighting forest fires. Because of the steep and rugged terrain, they had to carry all their supplies to reach the fire at Blackwater Creek on foot. When the wind abruptly shifted and flames began spreading quickly into the dense forest, fire crew boss Alfred Clayton and seven men were trapped in a firestorm. Clayton and six of the firefighters died in the fire. The eighth was rescued but later died in the hospital. Meanwhile, the fast-moving fire forced a group of 40 other firefighters, led by United States Forest Service fire manager Urban Post, to seek refuge on a ridgeline. The men crowded together on a blisteringly hot rocky outcropping, but the fire soon engulfed them, too. Junior Forester Paul Tyrrell, used his own body to shield other firefighters from the fire and keep them from panicking. He later died from the flames and heat. Five of the men attempted to escape by running through the fire to the other side. Only one survived. In all, 15 firefighters were killed in the Blackwater Fire and 38 others were injured, tying it for fourth place among the deadliest wildfires in U.S. history. These fatalities led to the implementation of the parachuting smokejumper program in 1939, the Ten Standard Firefighting Orders in 1957, and 18 Watchout Situations to increase firefighter safety. In 1938, three monuments were erected to honor those who gave their lives in the Blackwater Fire. In addition to the one along this highway, another was placed where Alfred Clayton and his men perished. The third is on the rocky ledge where Urban Post and his men waited out the firestorm; it can be accessed by a 10-mile round-trip hike.

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